ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Buffalo Bills receiver David Nelson was a Tim Tebow believer long before the Broncos comeback kid of a quarterback became a national phenomenon and, in the process, put Denver within reach of its first playoff berth in six years.
So it was in honor of the pending visit of the Denver "Tebows," as they're now being called, to play the Bills on Saturday that Nelson — Tebow's former Florida Gators teammate — greeted reporters at his locker this week by reciting a portion of the quarterback's famed "Promise" speech from 2008.
"You will never see a team play harder than we will for the rest of the season," Nelson said, quoting what Tebow said following an early-season loss to Mississippi, and words credited for inspiring Florida's run to a national title four months later.
"I'm just kidding," said Nelson, whose touchdown catch from Tebow sealed that 24-14 championship victory over Oklahoma. "I guess it's Tebow Time, huh?"
When isn't it these days?
From "Saturday Night Live" satirizing the quarterback last weekend to No. 15 appearing on national magazine covers, Tebow has taken the NFL by storm while making the sudden jump from mere athlete to pop culture icon.
He's become all the rage because of his faith, boundless enthusiasm, and genuflecting touchdown celebrations.
Most of all, Tebow's been thrust into the limelight because of his uncanny ability to win. He's produced five fourth-quarter comebacks during a 7-2 run that has the Broncos (8-6) in the driver's seat to clinch their first playoff berth since 2005 as they prepare to face the skidding Bills (5-9).
Sure, the Broncos aren't a one-player team, especially given how stingy and aggressive the defense played before a 41-23 loss to New England last week. And yet, Tebow's provided a skeptic-defying spark — his mechanics and run-first approach aren't supposed to be suited for the NFL — to a team desperately in need of one after a 1-4 start.
Nelson isn't surprised, because he saw a special quality in Tebow from the first time he encountered the then-freshman whooping and hollering in the Gators weight room.
"We were like, 'What's wrong with this guy?'" Nelson recalled. "But then, as we got to know who he was and what he's about, we realized it wasn't fake. ... He goes full-speed ahead at everything he does, and that's why he's been so successful."
The second-year receiver could've spent hours talking up Tebow, and not just the 10 minutes he was afforded.
When it was pointed out to Nelson that no one had asked him about the game Saturday, he replied: "What game?"
Ah, yes, there's a game.
For the Bills, their home finale has been rendered essentially meaningless because of a seven-game slide that's tumbled them out of playoff contention for a 12th straight season. The losing has exposed a lack of depth on an injury-riddled roster.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's sputtering, having thrown 12 of his league-worst 19 interceptions in his past seven games. And Buffalo's defense has allowed 32 points and generated just eight takeaways during the skid after producing 18 in the team's 5-2 start.
"Our fans expect better. We expect better. It takes more than talk on our part," ninth-year linebacker Chris Kelsay said. "It is frustrating. I've been here a long time, and it's been the same old story."
Not so in Denver, where the Broncos are enjoying a rebirth after a six-season stretch during which they're on their third head coach and had one winning season. Denver can clinch a postseason spot in a variety of fashions, most easily with a win over Buffalo combined with an Oakland Raiders loss or tie at Kansas City.
"I'm not really bothered with it," linebacker Joe Mays said of the number of playoff-clinching scenarios. "I'm just waiting for them to say that the Broncos are in the playoffs. To keep up with the games — who wins, who loses — it doesn't really matter as long as we go out there and we take care of our business."
Tebow and the Broncos have been doing their part for much of the past two months during a run that's featured five wins by four points or less, including three in overtime. It's a stretch that began with an 18-15 overtime win at Miami in Tebow's first start after taking over for Kyle Orton.
"I had good feelings about this team, even at 1-4, we were just shooting ourselves in the foot with turnovers," Broncos coach John Fox said. "I felt like we needed a change, and he sparked us."
He, of course, is Tebow who, despite his underwhelming passing numbers, has been at his best in the clutch, engineering 18 scoring drives in the fourth quarter or overtime.
Just like the old days.
"I've seen it all in Florida," Nelson said. "He may not be your conventional every day NFL drop-back quarterback. But he's going to win football games, somehow, some way. He's wired differently to where the game's on the line, he believes and he wills his team to victory."